One consequence of Gov. Jon Huntsman’s sudden decision to accept Barack Obama’s offer of the position of Ambassador to China is that the newly-promoted governor, current Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert, will need to face the voters in 2010. Huntsman’s term would have taken him through 2012, but Utah law is such that a replacement Governor newly elevated in a term’s first year faces a special election at the next regularly scheduled general election. (Remember, Huntsman was just re-elected in 2008.)
Herbert seems to be giving every indication that he will not be a placeholder and run for re-election in 2010 (for the remaining two years of the term; if he won, he’d still have to run again in the regularly-scheduled 2012 election if he wanted a full term). However, history may not be on his side. Lt. Gov. Olene Walker took over as Utah Governor in 2003 after Mike Leavitt became the Bush-era EPA Administrator, but because of Utah’s weird nominating procedures (previously discussed here), she didn’t even make it into the primary for her 2004 re-election, finishing third at the convention. (The top two finishers at the nominating convention advance to the primary, unless one candidate receives more than 60% at the convention, in which case he or she moves straight to the general.)
Herbert does not sound as out-of-step with activist base that dominates the nominating conventions as the somewhat moderate Walker, so he may still survive. He may still face some top-shelf competition, starting with AG Mark Shurtleff, last seen screwing up the announcement of his Senate primary candidacy against Bob Bennett via Twitter. Although Shurtleff is rumored be “Senate or bust,” he may be tempted to run against the less-known Herbert rather than longtime institution Bennett. (Another Bennett challenger, Tim Bridgewater, may be also interested in swapping races.)
There’s also the possibility that a decent Democrat might be more attracted to a chaotic, off-year gubernatorial election. That probably wouldn’t include Rep. Jim Matheson (who’d still have to give up his seat in 2010 to run), but it could include Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon or Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, who could run without giving up their current seats. While Swing State Project is skeptical of any Democrats’ chances in this race (it is, after all, Utah), there is enough fluidity here, especially on the GOP side, for us to add this as a “Race to Watch” to our 2010 Gubernatorial Race Ratings.
UPDATE (James): The Salt Lake Tribune touched bases with both Corroon and Jim Matheson, and they both are refusing to rule anything out:
A run for governor “is certainly not something I was planning for,” said Corroon, who “would never say never.” He says his “intent” is to finish his second term as Salt Lake County mayor.
Matheson says he will weigh his options. “In politics you always look at your opportunities,” he said, “and that’s what I always do.”